Revolutionizing prosthetics : The DEKA arm
Samael Falkner, Published on „Robots & Cyborgs“, 20.05.2014
As the saying goes, the best technology for everyday use comes from military projects. DARPA, the „Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency“ of the Pentagon, recently presented a huge breakthrough in prosthetics – a bit of a cynic piece coming from a company that worked on the development of Stealth Fighters and the M16 Assault Rifle as a military weapon of choice. But then again DARPA has branched out into all kinds of research over the last years. They develope new materials, research in chemistry and physics and continously work on better, more autonomic robotics.
So eight years ago, they started thinking about how to combine modern robotics and computer systems with the smoothness of natural arm and finger movement. They came up with something that seemed near impossible about 10 years ago – a mind operated prosthetic arm, that is hooked to the body of the amputee and allows all the everyday movement you’d expect a natural arm to carry out. From picking up small easily breaking things – in the videos these are commong eggs – to getting a good but flexible grip on other things – in the video that’s a carrot being peeled. The DEKA arm just works.
How it works? The bionic arm is linked to the muscle tissue of the part where the prostheses is hooked on. It works with the nerve system and the electrical impacts the body is sending out in order to make limbs move. For the test subject it will take about 10 hours practice in „mind control“ of the arm to pick up a bottle, a good amount more to pick up smaller objects without breaking them. But finally it is expected that with even more complex development and exercise the DEKA arm will be one of the first bionic prostheses that will actually replace a limb so well, the amputee will be able to forget about the robotics in the end.
Eight years are a relatively small amount of time to develope such a high-tec project and make it fit to go. But then again, it hasn’t been released to the public yet and is still searching for funders and investors to take it out to the market. However the DEKA arm is a major milestone in bionical research!